Do you ever looked at the bare soil under your trees and taller shrubs wishing you could do something creative with it – under-planting is the answer you’ve been looking for!
Taking advantage of un-used ‘space’ under deciduous trees and shrubs, under-planting is an extremely effective way of maximising interest and extending the seasons in your garden, without having to find any extra ‘room’ for new plants. Plus your new plants will suppress weeds too, giving you less work to do and more garden to enjoy.
It’s easy and simple too – check out our guide below, identify areas to be under-planted, then choose your plants – and get planting!
Which plants are suitable?
The ‘right plant, right place’ mantra is important when under-planting, as plants will need to tolerate drier soil, shade, root competition and ever-changing light and moisture levels.
In an established garden, we’d suggest concentrating on smaller shrubs, low-growing perennials and bulbs which will be well-suited under larger trees. In new gardens, we’d suggest using more carpeting plants which will cover the area quickly, providing interest and impact and also acting as a living mulch.
Our top plant choices for under-planting are:
Shallow-rooted and ground-covering, epimediums are mostly evergreen, tough, and very adaptable, with gorgeous flowers in Spring.
A great shrub with good leaf colour which lights up a shady area. It is also excellent ground cover, can be pruned to keep it at the required size, plus it’s a great foil for other plants.
Thriving in partial and even full shade, hostas offer great texture, colour and leaf shapes. Their leaves don’t appear until later in Spring, which means there’s time for something else to put on its display while you’re waiting.
Enjoying a range of conditions including dry shade and drought, liriope’s dark green blade-like leaves provide year-round interest, with the bonus of long-lasting spikes of deep violet flowers appearing in Autumn.
Annuals such as impatiens and pansies are tough, spread nicely and don’t mind shade – and of course they provide stunning colour.
Plus they make excellent fillers if you prefer to take some time to decide on your planting scheme.
Choose Spring-flowering bulbs such as narcissi, muscari and Winter aconites which provide good early interest and colourful highlights.
And choose Autumn-flowering varieties such as cyclamen and Autumn crocus for another boost at the other end of the season!
Requiring next to no care once established, ferns offer a great variety of interesting leaf shapes, textures and colours – they tolerate almost any type of soil and they love shade! When using them as part of an under-planting scheme, be sure to make a large planting hole and fill it with loose materials, so that the fibrous roots have chance to get established before they need to compete with surrounding roots.
Climbers will grow in almost any direction as long as they have support, which can of course be the ground itself, so adding in this group of plants extends your choices even further!
You can choose plants just for their foliage, like ivy, or you could add more drama and colour by choosing climbers which also have wonderful flowers, like clematis.
Top Design Tips
Don’t just plant a circle around your trees and shrubs – get up close and personal and make sure you plant all the way under to achieve the most natural ‘it just happened that way’ look.
Resist the temptation to include one of everything you like and use bold sweeps or drifts of plants and repeat them to produce the best effect, but you will have to have…
Patience! You need to account for the growth and spread of the plants you choose, so although the area may look a little ‘bitty’ to start with, it will all gradually knit together, looking much better the following year and great two years after planting. And if you can’t wait, you could of course always fill in your gaps with annuals, reducing the numbers in successive years as your plants grow and spread.
Choose a palette which relies on several key plants, and use a few others as ‘peaks’ or punctuation. Once you’ve decided on your palette of plants, repeat, repeat, repeat for maximum impact.
Include Spring bulbs and perennials, which appear early in the season and can take advantage of the light available before the leaf canopy develops. They’ll also help to maximise interest and extend the season.
Include some ground cover plants which will form thick mats of green carpet – and help to suppress weeds.
Make a space for the odd show-stopper, which will help to keep your display interesting, and ever-changing.
Make use of foliage, and be sure to include a mix of leaf shapes and textures to provide contrast, and include different coloured foliage to add interest too.
And finally, don’t forget that you can also under-plant your pots, which can be particularly effective when trailing plants are used to cascade over the sides of your pot – we’d suggest trailing fuschias, ivy and phlox but you may already have your own ideas!
So now that the myth has been busted, come and check out our great range of suitable plants – and find your under-planting utopia!